Flooding Across Iowa - 2008 Floods

The summer of 2008 brought record flooding to Iowa.


Yeager: Flash flooding in Mason City left a lasting impression on the community.

Doerfler: We're set up to handle a foot to eighteen inches of water. So, after that it receded very quickly but then it rained again and low and behold it got up this high this time.

Yeager: Steve Doerfler shows us where the Willow Creek water came into his nearly 60 year business, Metalcraft, in downtown Mason City.

Doerfler: My best hope is that we can get pumped out. We probably have about three feet of water still.

Yeager: He showed the Governor on Monday. Metalcraft, a maker of bar code ID name plates kept operations open on Monday, some crews were trying to wade through the water to get the business back in business.

I'm trying to hook up our Internet, we'll see how it goes.

Yeager: All of this work was being done while water was still being pumped out of wet basements and into dry streets. Flood waters of the Winnebago River overtook many parts of Mason City on Sunday. By Monday the river was still swollen in many places but there was no water in any taps. The city's water treatment plant was overrun by high water Sunday leaving the town of 27,000 with no water to bathe or drink with for several days.

Bang: It went over the levee.

Yeager: So, have you looked at this in the past and tried to address? What has been roadblocks in not maybe making this?

Bang: Well, we've got a levee. We'll be revisiting the issue now but this is an historic event. So, no, the levee didn't breach, as I understand, it went over the levee.

Yeager: Mason City Mayor Roger Band said the phrase many have been uttering a lot lately.

It's the highest the Winnebago has been since we started recording. The levels I think it was about three and a half feet higher than previously. So, this is a significant event that happened very quickly.

Yeager: No drinking water meant no restaurants could operate by order of the Health Department. Most were closed and dark. The city set up port-a-potties in various spots in town including in front of the Northbridge Mall. Bottled water was brought in by the truckload to pass out through town for those who needed it. Throughout eastern Iowa the story was played out again in large and small communities. Governor Culver has logged a lot of flight time this week looking at damage from the air -- in northeast Iowa at Decorah where record flooding occurred breaking a 1941 record. On the turkey at Elkader another record flood remains behind where several blocks were still under water. The Cedar caused evacuations of Cedar Falls, it's also over Highway 218 and 58. It also set a record. Downstream in Waterloo, water flooded several areas along the flood plain creating a big mess.

Have you ever this river this high before?

No, it wasn't even that high in '93.

So, what do you think when you see the water levels that high?

I think I hope that levee holds or my business is gone.

Yeager: Again, volunteers are put into action to sandbag and help keep the Cedar under control. The fast moving current helped take out a railroad bridge in downtown Waterloo. Flooding there tops a level set in the 1960s.

They're losing the road, the blacktop is peeling off and we may not get access.

Yeager: In Iowa City workers and volunteers have been preparing for the water coming their way. Already Dubuque Street in Iowa City was closed leaving a main artery to the University of Iowa campus under water. Businesses and homes were full of activity, no one was buying anything, just stockpiling sandbags as fast as possible. For some it's too late to save the house, they wade through the flood to salvage possessions. For the moment they have time but the clock is ticking. Just up the Iowa River at the Coralville Reservoir the dam is holding but the capacity is being challenged by the flow of floodwater from upstream. Onlookers have flocked to the dam and emergency spillway while the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers prepare to see water fill the spillway. Soon the dozens of onlookers will be replaced by water. That water goes downstream to Iowa City. Flood officials warn of any area impacted by the 1993 flood to take action sooner than later.

Yeager: Another reservoir, Saylorville, built to help flood control is the focus of attention in Des Moines. Upstream the Des Moines River has had high amounts of water shutting down Highway 30 near Boone. That water is headed downstream. A week ago you can see that water is nowhere near the emergency spillway. But those pneumatic crest gates were tested and put into place anyway at Saylorville. By Monday water started to seep through and head downstream. Saylorville controls the Des Moines River which flows through the heart of Des Moines. By Tuesday the prep work was in full swing and sandbags were ready to handle the water flow. Downtown businesses and city officials are deploying procedures based on the lessons of '93. The hope is the damage of '93 will be avoided, the prospect is an even greater amount of water may be headed their way.

Yeager: In the country thousands of acres of cropland in Iowa are under water waiting to see if the corn and soybeans put in will recover, grow to feed the big market demand for them. That impact is still being assessed and could be one of the lasting affects of the heavy rains and floods. In many cases farmers have been unable to plant this year because of the wet and cool spring. Adding insult to injury corn prices have hit historic highs.

The Iowa Journal

Iowa PBS, 2008


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